County seeks input on zoning changes

Ward County is seeking more public input on proposed changes to the county planning and zoning ordinances.

The changes will represent a complete overhaul of the system and will combine five separate ordinances that all apply to zoning into one uniform document, according to Ward County Planning and Zoning administrator Amber Turnquest.

“We’re trying to get away from a free-for-all and more toward organized development,” Turnquest said.

The documents, which haven’t had a major overhaul in several years, have made the huge amount of development in Ward County a bit difficult both for commissioners and for applicants.

As it stands, the county has zoning districts, where the allowances for those districts are the default values for the properties listed there, and that has caused problems for commercial developers.

“The proposal is to have individual zoning,” she said. “That means any particular piece of property, you’re allowed to do this one type of aspect with it as opposed to (agricultural), residential and commercial.”

The districts have been hierarchical. In Zoning District 2, for example, properties are allowed to be any type up to Commercial 1 zoning, called C1, the lowest of the commercial zoning values. A property owner would be allowed to put their property up to the allowances for that zoning, or anything lower including all three residential values as well as agricultural use. Unfortunately for commercial developers, they can’t rise above that without applying for a “special use” permit, which is temporary.

“Special use permits,” Turnquest said, “are essentially spot zoning without a permanent change. What we’re looking to do is have zoning that any developer coming into the county, especially commercial development, can get a zone change and know that that particular use will always be allowed on that property.”

The default length of time for an approved special use is five years, and after that the permit would have to be reapplied for without any security in its future. This makes banks and other loaning institutions nervous.

Turnquest used the idea of a new hotel development trying to develop within a district that doesn’t allow for such high zoning by default. A developer could get a special use, but if they wanted to sell that property a buyer wouldn’t be assured that the hotel could continue to operate should the permit get denied for renewal.

“So, by doing this it gives the county and businesses a sense of permanence,” she said. “They know this business will last in this place as long as they do whatever they’re doing right.”

The proposed ordinance changes have been up for readings and feedback at every Planning and Zoning meeting since February and will be up for additional feedback at the next meeting.

Not many people have been showing up to give insight, however. One man has continued to come to the meetings to voice his concerns and Turnquest has said that they have emailed and talked “quite a bit.” She said some of his input has made it into the working document, but she would like to hear more from the community, though.

“I would definitely like to get input,” she said. “I’m pretty involved in it right now so sometimes I can’t see the forest from the trees, but having that input especially from community members would definitely make this the best document we can have for the community.”

Interested parties can review the proposed changes on the Planning and Zoning commission website at (http://bit.ly/14QxEKK) and can attend the next public meeting on July 18. The commission meets the third Thursday of every month.